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City officials charged $839K to credit cards in first half of year

Charlottesville officials charged more than $839,000 to credit cards in the first six months of the year, boosted by measures to protect employees and implement safety measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Daily Progress obtained statements for all 159 city credit cards between Jan. 1 and June 30 through a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The pandemic led to a slew of charges for safety measures, but also resulted in some savings, as planned conferences were canceled.

Officials charged an average of $5,277 on each card over six months, or about $879 per month. The roughly 5,200 transactions averaged about $161.36 each.

The Charlottesville Police Department spent the most at $102,194, followed by Human Services with $88,105, Maintenance with $77,911, Parks and Recreation at $60,612 and the Fire Department at $51,087.

About $12,605 of the police department’s total spending was for meals for officers. The department also had several charges related to personnel recruitment, including $3,502 for customized water bottles in January.

The department with the least amount of charges was the City Attorney’s Office, which charged nothing and only had a $40 credit issued to the account.

Among charges for the Human Resources Department were $5,986 for job ads for the city’s public works director, Neighborhood Development Services director, fire chief, a civil engineer and a risk manager, as well as for the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s executive director position.

Pandemic spending

City officials spent at least $142,415 on supplies directly related to the pandemic.

Of that amount, officials charged $47,703 for face masks and $13,796 on meals for first responders.

Other charges related to the pandemic were for cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, gloves, thermometers, electronic meeting software and quarantine lodging. Officials also purchased several items to make interacting with the public safer, such as plastic walls and social distancing displays.

The pandemic also led to more spending by Registrar Melissa Morton because the June primary saw a large number of mail-in absentee ballots. She spent about $800 on postage and envelopes for the ballots.

The city received about $12,156 in refunds for conferences or other events that were canceled because of the pandemic.

Elected officials

Sheriff James Brown led the way in spending for elected officials with $18,491.

About a third of Brown’s charges, $6,300, were to cremate unclaimed bodies, an expense already expected to increase in the city’s budget before the pandemic.

Brown also spent $2,760 for several deputies to attend a conference in Florida in January. He spent $4,139 to attend a training seminar in Hampton around the same time that the City Council declared a local emergency in response to the pandemic.

Commissioner of the Revenue Todd Divers charged $9,956 to his card in the beginning of the year. Most of his charges were for office supplies and safety measures, as the office reopened to the public for limited business.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker spent $2,647 in the first half of the year, with most of the charges related to council meetings or meetings with constituents and community programs.

Walker spent $741.32 on a chair and printer for a home office, $100 on gift cards for virus testing coordinators and $35 in sanitizing supplies.

Councilor Sena Magill spent $710 on meeting with constituents and attending the National League of Cities conference in March.

Treasurer Jason Vandever spent $326.30 on a hotel in the Richmond area for legislative week at the General Assembly.

Councilor Michael Payne and Circuit Court Clerk Llezelle Dugger have a card, but did not use it in the first half of the year. Councilors Lloyd Snook and Heather Hill and Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania do not have cards in their name.

Department heads

Human Services Director Kaki Dimock spent the most of appointed department heads, at $30,283. Most of her charges were for COVID safety measures and services for clients.

Morton, the registrar, spent $16,049, mostly on office supplies and materials for the June primary election.

Economic Development Director Chris Engel spent $10,929 on pre-pandemic conferences and business meetings.

Clerk of Council Kyna Thomas charged $6,900. About half of that amount was for food for council meetings and the remaining charges were for office supplies and council charges.

Police Chief RaShall Brackney spent $1,811 on travel to conferences leading up to the pandemic.

Former Fire Chief Andrew Baxter spent $295 to register for a conference earlier this year. Interim Fire Chief Emily Pelliccia spent $6,954, mostly on meals for first responders in the early days of the pandemic.

City Manager Tarron Richardson spent $318.41 on airfare to Austin, Texas, for a conference, booked around the same time as the city declared a local emergency related to the pandemic.

In February, a staffer in the City Manager’s Office also put down two $279 deposits on a hotel in Austin for Richardson and Deputy City Manager Letitia Shelton to attend the 2020 National Forum for Black Public Administrators. The conference has been rescheduled for October.

Other department heads making charges were NDS Director Alex Ikefuna with $7,928; Finance Director Chris Cullinan with $6,926; Parks and Recreation Director Todd Brown with $3,961; Communications Director Brian Wheeler with $3,813; Interim Public Works Director Marty Silman with $3,127; Utilities Director Lauren Hildebrand with $744; and Deputy City Manager Paul Oberdorfer at $205.


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